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Authors: K.M. Shea

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The Wild Swans

BOOK: The Wild Swans
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The Wild Swans

By: K. M. Shea

 

 

 

a Take Out The Trash! Publication

Copyright © K.M. Shea 2013

 

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any number whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of quotations embodied in articles and reviews.

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Chapter 1

“One of your underlings made a mistake,
Dewdrop
. The royal fields yielded a higher income in wheat than what is recorded.”

The use of a sardonic nickname and the know-it-all tone Falk
adopted as he stabbed his finger at the recorded accounts set Elise on edge.

“You are correct
, brother. However, the recorded number is the gross profit. The number is derived after paying the farmers, subtracting the cost of seed, and so on. Also, I’m afraid if there is a mistake in the agricultural accounts, you have me to blame as I was the only member of the Treasury Department to work on them,” Elise said.

As if she would inflict
Falk on any of her subordinates. Hah!

Falk leaned back in his chair. “I
am not your brother,
Sweetling
.”

“I apologize
, Prince Falk,” Elise said as she fixed a smile on her face, wished Falk would go away, and forced her head down so she could continue copy-editing the Gold Army accounts.

Elise loved her job as head of the Treasury Department. She loved numbers and finances. They always behaved as expected
, and if something was wrong, the mistake could be traced. Furthermore, her position spoke volumes of the trust King Henrik placed in her. He might not love her enough to adopt her—only to claim her as the royal family’s foster child—but he had so much faith in her that he charged her with building and distributing Arcainia’s wealth.

However
, on the days Prince Falk, one of her foster brothers, chose to visit her office to discuss the Agriculture Department’s accounts, Elise wished King Henrik had trusted someone else with the task.

“How long did it take you to complete the Agriculture Department’s audit?” Falk asked
, turning a page.

“I can’t say I took note of it. May I inquire why the length of time would make a difference?” Elise asked.

“Don’t worry your pretty, little head,
Fawn
. I was only attempting to make polite conversation.”

Elise very much doubted this
, but she let the matter go. “Of course.”

One of Elise’s secretaries stood in the open doorway and tapped on the wall to announce her presence
“Fürstin,” she said, drawing Elise’s attention. For some reason beyond her understanding, Elise’s subordinates went through extraordinary efforts to use old titles of nobility whenever one of her foster brothers was around. Elise’s title of Fürstin was commonly translated to princess, but beyond signifying she was a child of royalty, it also meant she was the head of her family. As the royal family hadn’t adopted her, this meant she outranked all but her eldest foster brother, the crown prince.

“Fürstin
,” the secretary repeated. “The Kronprinz is—,”

“I can announce myself
, thank you. Elise, that bloated pig has gone too far. Hello, Falk,” Steffen, the crown prince, said as he edged his way into Elise’s office.

Elise
folded her hands in her lap. “Who is a bloated pig?”

Steffen
ran a hand through his hair, mussing it. The gesture gave away his frustration. Typically Steffen looked as perfect as the portrait of him that hung in the main gallery. Every piece of his blonde hair was always settled in place; his uniform was never crooked; and his eyes crinkled with the slight, perpetual smile he constantly wore. Now, his eyes were uncharacteristically narrowed as he snapped, “The prince of Loire.”

“Which prince?”
Elise asked.

“The
legitimate
one. His father has asked us to give you over in marriage to that empty-headed buffoon.”

“Fürstin
,” the secretary, who still hovered at the doorway, said. “Would you like me to call for refreshments?”

“Yes
, please. Thank you, Gretta,” Elise said, rearranging her papers.

The secretary bo
bbed a curtsey and disappeared from view.

“Aren’t you offended?”
Steffen asked, striking Elise’s desk with a rolled up paper.

“The buffoon to which you are referring is the heir to the throne of a country that is three to four times as large as our beloved Arcainia. No, I cannot say I am the least bit offended,” Elise said.

Falk
, the stark opposite of his brother in resemblance and temperament, raised his eyebrows and said nothing.

“Aren’t you even surprised?”
Steffen asked.


From whom the offer originates, yes. As far as Loire knows, we are nothing but a small, powerless neighbor. It is unanticipated that Loire’s King would choose Prince Lucien’s bride—the future queen of Loire—to come from such a place,” Elise said, making a tally mark on some parchment. “Not to mention you hired an assassin guild to kill one of the princes. Even though the plan failed, they must know we financed the attempt. If they do not have proof right now, I imagine they will shortly—those Rangers the Loire princes play around with are just as good as Mikk’s sneaks.”


But that is all that surprises you? I was shocked to receive the offer at all,” Steffen said, looking around for a chair. He stared at Falk, who was sitting in the only free chair in the room, perched near Elise.

Falk stared back at
Steffen and made a shooing motion.

Steffen
rolled his eyes and found a chair under a precariously balanced stack of books, which he set on the ground before making himself comfortable.

Elise cleared her throat after the interchange
was over. “You think I am unmarriageable, Steffen? Or do you doubt anyone would want to marry the foster daughter of the King of Arcainia?”


That’s not it at all. You’re a princess all the way through,” Steffen said, his lips reforming into the usual smile. “I merely think it is a little early for you to marry.”

Elise went
back to her accounts. “I am 18, nearly 19. It is the right age for suitors to express interest,” she said, copying down numbers.

“You are ready to be married
, then?”

“It is not so much
that I am ready, but more that I cannot avoid the duty much longer. I have told Father as much.”

“You’ve spoken to Father about marriage?”
Falk asked, straightening up in his chair.

“Brief
ly. I told him I would never forgive him if he married me off to someone poor.”

Steffen
stared. “Why? You are not one to demand luxuries.”

“Indeed
. But the north wall of the castle needs repairing, and it’s going to be costly. My suitor could pay for it as the bride price,” Elise said, dipping her quill into an inkwell of tar black ink. She paused. “Loire is a very rich country.”

“No
,” Steffen said.

“No
,” Falk repeated.

“I’ve already sent a refusal.
It’s probably a ploy. Some of Mikk’s undercover men heard more rumors of Prince Lucien’s warmongering. He’s still set on coming after us,” Steffen continued.

“And?”

“And what?”

“So what
was the purpose of storming my office to inform me of this development? Since you have already sent a refusal on my behalf, I don’t have much to do with the matter,” Elise said.

“I wanted someone to complain to
,” Steffen said.

“Gabrielle wouldn’t hear you out?” Falk asked
, referring to Steffen’s wife, Princess Gabrielle.

“Gabi is gone for the day
, and she took her dratted cat with her. Good riddance,” Steffen said. “So you would seriously consider marriage? Not to the Loire Pig Prince of course, but to a suitable candidate?”

Elise
was spared from replying as her secretary, Gretta, arrived with the tea.

“Your refreshments
, Fürstin,” Gretta said, setting a tray laden with a three-person tea set and various treats on an end table another secretary brought in.

“Thank you
, Gretta,” Elise smiled.

The secretary gave Elise a dimpled smile
before she left.

“Well?”
Steffen asked.

Elise stood and set about serv
ing tea, pouring it with elegance and poise. “I am a princess, Steffen. It is my duty as a member of this family—foster child or not—to marry for the betterment of our country. I have never shrunk away from my duties before, and I do not intend to start doing so now.”


That’s our Perfect Princess,” Steffen said, repeating the court’s pet name for Elise.

“If you say so. Tea?”

“No, thank you. So, do you have anyone in mind for marriage?” Steffen asked.

Elise paused. “Perhaps
,” she said, deliberately looking to her the door of her office. It opened into the Treasury Department’s headquarters, and directly across the hall from the Treasury Department was the Commerce Department. Mertein—the young noble who was casually courting her—worked there.

“Hm. Should
have guessed. I must be going; I have a somewhat urgent correspondence I must see to,” Steffen said as he rocked to his feet. “But you two enjoy.”


Were you pleasant when you refused the Loire Crown Prince?” Falk asked as he took the tea cup Elise offered him.

“Goodness
, no,” Steffen said.


Excellent,” Falk said.

“Be careful when play
ing with Loire, Steffen. That second prince is dangerous,” Elise said, pouring a cup of tea for herself.

“Prince Severin? He’s not a beast anymore
, did you hear? He went off and fell in love with a merchant’s daughter. Broke the curse right off him.”

“Yes
that’s why he’s even more dangerous now.”

“I agree. Take care
, sister.”

“You as well
, brother,” Elise watched Steffen leave with a fond smile. He was the only member of the royal family who had encouraged her from the day she was taken in as a foster child to refer to him as brother.

She loved him for his acceptance.

“I believe I found another error in my department’s accounts,
Dove
.”

Elise steeled herself to keep a grimace off her face.
Steffen’s acceptance was more than she could say for some of her other foster brothers.

“Yes
, Falk. Where is it?”

“Here. We grew several acres more of alfalfa hay than what is recorded.
I apologize, but it might take me more than one day to finish inspecting these numbers.”

“Of course.”

“I will have to intrude upon you while I do so, of course. The Treasury Department records things differently than we do in the Agriculture Department.”

That
would be just her luck. Elise bit her tongue to keep from snarling. “Of course,” she pleasantly said.

Two weeks
later, Elise walked with her subordinates to the dining hall.

“Princess
, would you look at the Carabas accounts after lunch? The master craftsman submitted their bid for the shipyard docks. I’m not certain they used the right dimensions, based on their estimates,” one bookkeeper asked.

“I would be happy to
, Fritz. Thank you for so carefully recording the bids,” Elise said, tightening the red ribbon that held her unruly mess of curly, brown hair back in a ponytail.

“It’s my honor
,” Fritz said. “Thank you, Princess.”

“Lisel
, did the last payment for the college’s new astronomy lab clear the daily treasury?” Elise asked, craning her neck to look for the red-haired accountant in the herd of scholars that surrounded her.

“It did. It will dry the dai
ly treasury for a time, but since we paid off our debts, we will no longer owe compounding interest. I suspect we’ll recover in a matter of weeks,” the accountant said, popping out in front of Elise.

BOOK: The Wild Swans
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